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38
4.4 out of 5 stars
A Single Man
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A Single Man gives as much pleasure as you can get from a novel, I think, as the central figure is engaging - but not too 'nice' to be convincing - and the writing is unfailingly communicative as can only suggest quite a lot of common ground between George and Isherwood himself, even if we know Isherwood didn't lose his lover. The happy gay relationship - again not over-idealised - is here a thing of the past after a fatal accident, and the question the book poses is, how does one find meaning in life in middle-age in these circumstances? The book takes the form of different episodes in his day which have a much more mixed flavour than the Tom Ford film - and there are more of them. He visits a woman dying in hospital, for instance, and goes to a gay-friendly gym. He is also a good ten years older than Colin Firth who played him in the film - Firth was excellent, but the character is again brought closer to an ideal, as is his friend Charlotte. You might say the film is a kind of fantasy where the book is rooted very much in real life, even if the events follow a similar outline, with the marvellous swim in the night sea, drunk, with his student Kenny, followed by a rather less glossed continuation at his house. Another major difference is that there is no mention of suicide in the book - a facet of the film that weakened it somewhat, perhaps tapping into the mood of The Hours ... Where the novel really comes into its own is in the sense of being buoyed up by Isherwood's amazing narrative voice. The opening and close of the book are among the best I have ever read - the latter has a perfectly pitched ambiguity that I couldn't give away, but it taps into the same feeling as the opening and brings full circle a narrative thread that carries infinite humanity on the long fragile line that is any work of prose, even one as great as this, and as succinct at just over 150 pages.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 29 December 2009
If you have not read Christopher Isherwood you have missed the work of a brilliant author. This particular book was praised by the NY Times as "...a sad, sly report on the predicament of the human animal." Isherwood's prose is spare, mesmerizing; his words well chosen, succinct, meaningful. Most importantly, his writings are true.

When first published about a half century ago A SINGLE MAN was considered shocking as it portrayed for the first time the life of a gay man, George, who was recently bereaved and trying to adjust to life without his partner. George is a college professor, careful, thoughtful. The all too brief story covers just 24 hours from the moment he awakens in the morning and remembers that he has lost his partner to his studied, sometimes painful navigation of the day.

We are privy not only to his actions but to his thoughts, thus we share his predicament, a very human one. George is an Englishman living in southern California, a place a bit inhospitable to a middle-aged scholar yet he perseveres by observing routine. Haven't many of us found ourselves left with that as our one means of coping? For this reader/listener that is the beauty of Isherwood as A SINGLE MAN is not solely a drama of gay life but of all humanity.

Reader Simon Prebble gives voice to George with understanding, and skillful narration. British born his voice is perfectly suited for this role.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the hugely successful movie version of A SINGLE MAN by Tom Ford - don't miss this. And hearty recommendations also for Isherwood's Christopher and His Kind and Prater Violet also found on audio from HighBridge.

- Gail Cooke
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on 7 November 2001
Isherwood's writing had as many ups and downs as a rollercoaster, which he would have been the first to admit, but this is (I think) the rose amongst the thorns that were his 'middle' books - a sensitive, heart warming and tender depiction of the life of a middle aged, gay male in mid-century America. This was the first of his books I read, and lead me to read all the others.
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on 20 September 2014
Beautifully written: poetic/dryly comic/ moving /neatly observed economic prose. Isherwood tells the story of a day in the life of a gay Englishman living in Santa Monica, lecturing at Californian university. An outsider by birth, culture and sexual orientation he is grieving the loss of his long time partner killed in a car accident. The narrative effectively distances and objectifies the central character at the beginning as he wakes and forces himself to consciousness, then grows in fluidity as he consciously pulls on his outer persona on the drive to work, and begins the teaching of a literature class. The constraints, desires and thoughts are conveyed effectively through his interactions with neighbours, students and ex-pat friend as we journey with him into the evening.

In the documentary'Chris & Don: A Love Story', filmed in the house Isherwood shared with his younger lover for over 30 years, amid his numerous paintings and drawings of Isherwood, Bachardy reveals that this story was written during one of their 'difficult' years when Bachardy in an extra-marital relationship thought about leaving, and Isherwood tried to imagine what life would be like without him. The pain that comes from that contemplation is transmuted to this impressive novel that celebrates the beauty of life as well as mourning loss. As a further connective pleasure, the subsequent film by Tom Ford featuring an elegantly clad Colin Firth beautifully captures the tone, mood and spirit of Isherwood's original.
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This is an unusual book written in deceptively straightforward prose, yet with moments of real beauty. It covers 24 hours in the life of George, British ex-pat living in LA and lecturing in English at a college. The themes include that of loss as he has recently lost his gay partner Jim. Any reader who has suffered bereavement will recognise the moments where George recalls lying opposite Jim and both of them reading yet aware of each other, or in the supermarket where he is reminded of meals shopped for, cooked and eaten with Jim. Even the final illness of Doris, the woman with whom Jim had an affair, breaks some kind of bond between them that links back to Jim, and one more bit of Jim is lost to him forever. I loved the classroom moments such as when he faces a nun in her mediaeval habit, unsure how to interact. His loss includes, in a sense, that of England itself as he and fellow ex-pat Charlotte dream of going back there; but you just know they won't. He has a nearly-affair with student Kenny (more loss?)and there is a terrific scene where they go swimming, and a huge wave nearly overcomes George: almost as if it is life itself that is overcoming him. This is four stars because I have to say it is not a cheerful book (I am not including any spoilers) but it is unforgettable and quite unlike any other book I have read.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 7 August 2008
When I told a friend about this book, I said "it's very well written" and she said "Well, der! Isherwood!" and I laughed. But then I've only read Goodbye to Berlin and I was very young then, and didn't know good from bad.

It's possibly one of the most perfect little books I've read, absorbing from the first page and written in such a way that it feels like first person but it's actually written in third, astoundingly clever to my eyes. You get as easily into George's head as if it were first person.

Set over 24 hours, it simply covers his thought processes as he moves through the day and you learn a lot about him and the world in which he lives. From the first section he touches your heart as - as anyone who has suffered bereavement will understand - he wakes up and remembers again that his lover is dead. But he's not pessimistic about his outlook - he doesn't like the way that conservatism is encroaching upon the once bohemian area where he lives - once where there was artists and poets and easy sexual values, families are moving in, with more straight-laced ideals, but in juxtaposition to this, he loves youth.

He teaches at the University and the scenes with the Gidget-era youth are rather sweet and truly give a window into a lost American world. He does watch the athletes for his own enjoyment which was a nice touch.

I loved his optimism, despite how much he missed Jim, and the way that he finds the light and the dark in his life. He interacts with many people throughout the day, he's not at all an isolated person, but I was left feeling that he was spinning on the spot, lonely despite all the people who know and care from him. Without the one intimate friend he needed.

And really - that's about it apart from(spoilers below) He's a truly likeable guy, and towards the end of the book he's feeling optimistic about life. He had a lovely drunken evening first with a neighbour and then with a student friend, skinny dipping and a lot of drink. It's difficult to tell whether anything happened, but I don't think it did. He goes to bed at the end of his 24 hours feeling that it was time that he moved on with his life and that he was ready to look for love again. What would have been far more realistic and upbeat would have been if Isherwood had left it there. It would have been lovely to think that's what George does next. But - whether for literary merit - or for the tradition that - in books of this period - all gay guys MUST die at the end - he doesn't. And it was the ending that spoiled it for me and made me want to throw the book across the room, and made it lose a five star ranking.
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on 27 December 2012
After watching Tom Ford's beautifully screened adaptation, I had high expectations that Isherwood's novel would have carried through this beauty through to paper. Boy, was I not disappointed! Although the language may seem difficult for younger readers, the wonderful interpretation of George's emotions and his battle with grief and lost love compensates for this difficulty.

The only thing that bothered me was that, as the story progressed, I noticed many differences between this and the film. A major one being George's memoirs with Jim. Yes, Isherwood wanted his character to be able to move on to a certain extent. However, Ford's adaptation of this that previously showed moments close to you needing your tissues horribly seem false compared to what Isherwood wrote.

Overall, a beautifully written book. I've used the word 'beautiful' maybe too many times now but I can't help it. It is beauty written in words. Like a poem. Because of its language, I'd recommend it to adults wanting a romantic indulge into telling of events that can be related with everyone.

Don't let George's love for a man stop you from reading this beautiful, severely underrated book!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 19 February 2010
`A Single Man' is the tale of a day in the life of George. A British man teaching English and living in California who's life has changed through the complex emotions grief bestows upon someone since loosing his partner Jim. Though you are never quite told when the book is meant to be set I got a feel of the late 1950's, the book was written in the early 1960's a time when homosexuality really wasn't still accepted though there was a slight change in the air. We follow George through his day and in doing so learn how a man copes with the loss of a loved one, for he is technically a widower, when he cannot discuss it.

For such a short book it is brimming with ideas, emotions, and people. It's utterly remarkable. Through George's ordinary day as he gets up, gets ready, drives to work, works, visits a hospital, has a dinner with a friend and gets very drunk Isherwood crams different emotions behind all his actions. Sometimes bitter, inept, nostalgic, angry, sad, aroused, giddy - basically the whole gambit that grief with put you through and so far in my ready experience I have never read it better and though its not written in first person you can feel it all. We also get his back story, Jim's too and then we have the wonderful character of Charlotte a fairly close neighbour.

I could go on and on about this book but really what I should simply do is urge you to read it. It's a small book filled with subtlety and a such a deep and clever internal dialogue which says so much you feel you want to read it again and see what you missed.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 28 July 2008
When I told a friend about this book, I said "it's very well written" and she said "Well, der! Isherwood!" and I laughed. But then I've only read Goodbye to Berlin and I was very young then, and didn't know good from bad.

It's possibly one of the most perfect little books I've read, absorbing from the first page and written in such a way that it feels like first person but it's actually written in third, astoundingly clever to my eyes. You get as easily into George's head as if it were first person.

Set over 24 hours, it simply covers his thought processes as he moves through the day and you learn a lot about him and the world in which he lives. From the first section he touches your heart as - as anyone who has suffered bereavement will understand - he wakes up and remembers again that his lover is dead. But he's not pessimistic about his outlook - he doesn't like the way that conservatism is encroaching upon the once bohemian area where he lives - once where there was artists and poets and easy sexual values, families are moving in, with more straight-laced ideals, but in juxtoposition to this, he loves youth.

He teaches at the University and the scenes with the Gidget-era youth are rather sweet and truly give a window into a lost American world. He does watch the athletes for his own enjoyment which was a nice touch.

I loved his optimism, despite how much he missed Jim, and the way that he finds the light and the dark in his life. He interacts with many people throughout the day, he's not at all an isolated person, but I was left feeling that he was spinning on the spot, lonely despite all the people who know and care from him. Without the one intimate friend he needed.

And really - that's about it apart from(spoilers below) He's a truly likeable guy, and towards the end of the book he's feeling optimistic about life. He had a lovely drunken evening first with a neighbour and then with a student friend, skinny dipping and a lot of drink. It's difficult to tell whether anything happened, but I don't think it did. He goes to bed at the end of his 24 hours feeling that it was time that he moved on with his life and that he was ready to look for love again. What would have been far more realistic and upbeat would have been if Isherwood had left it there. It would have been lovely to think that's what George does next. But - whether for literary merit - or for the tradition that - in books of this period - all gay guys MUST die at the end - he doesn't. And it was the ending that spoiled it for me and made me want to throw the book across the room, and made it lose a five star ranking.
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on 9 October 2012
A Single Man, a short poignant novel; as it muses upon life and death, appreciates the simple small pleasures of live and survival upon bereavement. Isherwood makes the simple and the insignificant plainly beautiful.
Isherwood manages to stitch you into following one, very ordinary day of the very ordinary George's life. Through this we learn his memories, his thoughts and innermost feelings. George's dry sense of humour is riddled through the book in all its beauty and sadness.
It is one of the shortest books I've read at only 152 pages but it's so deep and clever, riddled with subtlety that makes you want to read it again.
You leave the book feeling as if you've known George forever.
Simply one of the best books I have ever read.
`This is a tightly planned little house. He often feels protected by its smallness; there is hardly room enough here to feel lonely'
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